February 18, 2014

Yoga Teacher, Heal Thyself. ~ Michelle Marchildon

Child's pose

Why are yoga teachers often the last to heal themselves?

I have a friend, who is also a yoga teacher, with pain in her back. She has been modifying her practice and trying new things. Because nothing was working for long, I referred her to a renowned Iyengar-trained and alignment-based yoga practitioner.

This is what she advised: “Get an MRI.”

Right? It’s possible that her problem might be bigger than yoga.

Two thousand years ago they did not have Advil. There was no Tylenol, Celebrex or Lyrica. There may have been wine, but there just weren’t the drugs, balms, oils and salves that we have today to relieve pain.

All they had was yoga.

Yoga is a healing practice. Sometimes we forget that as we power our way through backbends that hurt and stretches on steroids. These days, I have more students who hurt rather than heal with yoga—and teachers are no exception.

I used to be one of those yogis; then I changed my practice. Today, I can heal almost anything with yoga—but that doesn’t mean it’s foolproof.

The wisdom is in knowing the difference.

Once, I worked with a teacher whose hip flexors were aching. We did everything I could think of including groins back, rooting the femurs and massage. Then she went to the doctor; it turns out she had an ovarian tumor the size of a grapefruit impacting the area. The tumor was removed and lo and behold, her practice was pain free.

Yoga is amazing. With yoga we can be healthier and stronger—it can make us more aware, sensitive and content. It is the “something more” we seek in life. But perhaps, it is not everything.

For example, I have struggled with my right arm since I was 12 years old. I had a dislocated shoulder that healed improperly, and from then on this arm has given me trouble. I’ve had a torn rotator cuff, tendonitis and Chaturanga elbow, which is just like Tennis Elbow except that it comes from yoga.

Then one day I got a strange pain in the back of my shoulder blade. It kept me up at night. It throbbed when I put on a bra. Once, my husband and I were heading to a party and my dress, which had a tube top, was hurting so much I ripped it off in the car.

“Whoa baby,” said my husband.

This went on for 14 months (lucky husband). Finally I went to the doctor, who said it was an intense muscle spasm and prescribed a medicated patch. The pain was gone in two days.

OMG! I suffered for 14 months thinking if I just brought the head of my arm bones back a little more the spasm would go away.

“The only true wisdom,” said Socrates, “Is in knowing, you know nothing.”

Today, my shoulder is clicking. I think I tore my biceps tendon in an exercise class, and then aggravated it skiing. I have tried all the yogic and non-yogic things like medicated balms. But this much I know for sure:

I do not have the answer.

So now I am seeing my doctor.

I hope, that if yoga is not the answer perhaps modern medicine has the cure. It’s at least worth a try.


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Editor: Bryonie Wise

Photo: elephant archives

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